Saturday 21 October 2017

Ancient craft of consultancy makes sense when all is lost

Dion Fanning

Right now, Iain Dowie is giving Football Management Consultants a bad name. This is a startling transformation as it was only a few weeks ago that Dowie gave us the name, Football Management Consultant.

He was a trailblazer, football's first Football Management Consultant. He was a pioneer, a man who would stand or fall on his record. Once again, he has fallen on it.

In a society impatient for instant gratification, this is no surprise. It used to take time before the pioneers were seen as flawed men. Now, within days of their arrival, men like Dowie are struggling for acceptance.

The ancient craft of consultancy is also affected by the Hull manager's failure to transform the fortunes of his side since his arrival. Like all consultants, Dowie is good with figures, pointing out after Hull had lost again on Wednesday that the side he is helping on a consultancy basis had "66 per cent more corners" than Aston Villa, who beat them.

The Hull manager Phil Brown, on gardening leave currently, could have done everything Dowie has done. And more, as Phil can carry a tune. It would be customary in these situations for reports to appear that Dowie has lost the dressing room, but as he's barely had time to find it, at least he doesn't have to worry about that.

Dowie is a man who moves effortlessly from the pastel jumpers and comfy sofas of Sky to the dug-out and back again without ever seeming to say anything interesting or achieve much. He is one of their good guys, a bantering, unexamining member of their consensus. (Incidentally, the last time I watched Goals on Sunday, their fruit bowl consisted entirely of oranges. In Sky's world, oranges are the only fruit).

Dowie was booed by supporters on Wednesday night and he has not been helped by the financial mismanagement which is now as customary in the Premier League as assaulting officials is in local GAA matches.

Hull are in a mess thanks to a reckless transfer policy, words we have heard before, and they need their consultant to manage their survival. He said it was a time for heroes, but that time has gone. Perhaps it was a stark example of the poverty in English football that Dowie was allowed to state that he was an experienced relegation-fighter. Few asked how his teams came to be fighting relegation in the first place and it was rarely pointed out that he has never kept a team in the Premier League.

He has cracked the code and can do no wrong. Last week, he talked about Hull doing things at the business end of the football pitch, wherever that is.

Player power gets a raw deal when you consider that sometimes the players have to listen to a man like Dowie encouraging them to win their personal battles. They don't need a consultant to tell them that.

* * * * *

There was something deeply symbolic about Liverpool inter-railing around Europe searching for positives. Of course, there are none.

Their jaunt was reminiscent of the impoverished journeys Brendan Behan would make across Europe, certain as he set off that he would soon be sitting down with Simone de Beauvoir. There was freedom in his jaunts too. He could pop off and see Sugar Ray Robinson in a nightclub in Juan-les-Pins. A free man with nothing left to lose.

Just like Liverpool, Behan was broke and he would squirrel away pieces of cheese, sleep in hedges, steal bikes and generally do whatever was necessary to survive. Liverpool's riches are now all in metaphor. There may come a time when Fernando Torres' lone journey by road, rail and sea to get from Liverpool to, well, anywhere, but it happened to be Barcelona, is seen as symbolic rather than borne out of an urgent desire to treat a knee injury.

A few days later, his team-mates set out on their odyssey and they seemed to be less surprised to be travelling by train than those who complain about footballers being out of touch did. Immediately, it became a positive as Liverpool were said to be bonding over long nights under starry skies. At the end of this bonding exercise, they lost.

Torres may leave for good in the summer. Manchester City having demonstrated they are now employing top, top, top, top scouts when they revealed that they have identified Torres as a first-rate player who would improve their side.

Nobody could blame Torres for wanting to leave a club that has been destroyed by Tom Hicks and George Gillett but if he wanted to play outside the Champions League he could just stay at Liverpool, so the timing of Mancini's statement seemed peculiar.

Liverpool face a summer of chaos and disarray which will add to the sense that they are turning into the new Newcastle United, but one stripped of the summer hopefulness. Their squad is not as bad as some like to think, although that might not be the case if Manchester City get their hands on it.

Dirk Kuyt, for one, has a saintly air. When he was through on goal against Atletico on Thursday, Kuyt eschewed the shot and headed for the by-line to deliver a cross so a team-mate could miss instead of him. Any manager and owner would be proud of that team ethic.

Mancini and Manchester City now want to shatter this unity. They are offering to double Torres' wages but the only thing they have to be able to offer is Champions League football, otherwise sharing a dressing room with Stephen Ireland and Craig Bellamy is unlikely to be much of an incentive.

Naturally, City's move has enraged Liverpool fans. The sense of entitlement that comes from having money is bound to anger Liverpool fans, who have the sense of oppression that comes from having none.

dfanning@independent.ie

Sunday Independent

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